WAUNAKEE — Joe Mogensen has a love for the North Woods.
When he was in eighth grade, his parents moved from Janesville to Land O’Lakes, where they purchased a small resort on Moccasin Lake. This is where Mogensen — who went to high school in Eagle River — got a taste for the lodging industry, worked as a muskie guide for the guests and even spent a summer delivering newspapers by boat on the nearby Cisco chain of lakes.
But after years in marketing and in the advertising industry as an art director in the Madison area, Mogensen, 48, is back in hospitality. Only instead of running a resort, he’s working from a basement in his Waunakee home as a middle man to connect property owners with those seeking a vacation. In 2009, Mogensen founded RentWisconsinCabins.com, a site with a growing list of more than 700 properties throughout the state.
Rental units range from a one-bedroom hunting cabin for $50 a night near Glidden to the Cranberry Castle, an 8,500-square-foot log and stone cabin on the Eagle River chain of lakes that can sleep more than 20 people and rent during peak times for $15,000 a week. There is no charge for vacationers searching for a place to stay to use the site, but Mogensen charges $95 per unit per year to property owners to list their rentals. Mogensen does not handle bookings.
“Our website is purely that we introduce the renter to the rental property owner and property manager and then we get the heck out of the way,” he said.
Mogensen has lived his whole life in Wisconsin, but he’s not solely focused within its borders. Mogensen’s company, JM Creative, is growing. In the last two years he has added similar rental sites for Minnesota (255 properties), Michigan (160) and New York (60) and plans to add Indiana and Ohio by this spring. He wants to add another two states by the fall and ultimately have sites in 25 states. Mogensen has two part-time employees and this summer will add two interns from UW-Madison. He’s also considering moving out of the basement and into rented office space.
The Wisconsin site has nearly 2 million page views since launching and unique visits are on the rise. In 2009, Mogensen recorded 26,676 unique views, a number that grew to 102,499 by 2012. The number of individual users who came to the Wisconsin site slipped to 84,635 in 2013 after a website update made it more mobile friendly. In 2014, there were 88,284 unique users. He predicts the Wisconsin site could have a combined 115,000 unique visits in 2015.
Ginny Wilbrandt is the owner of Cottage Keeper Vacation Rental Homes, which brokers rental units for homeowners on Castle Rock Lake and the Petenwell Flowage in central Wisconsin. She started her business in 1998 and now has 24 units. She uses seven websites to advertise her listings, including RentWisconsinCabins.com.
“It costs less, yet, we get lots of leads,” Wilbrandt said. “To me the biggest challenge is to match the clientele with the home to make sure they get what they want. Joe gets us the lead, but then we really get to match what the renter wants.”
The sites include up to 15 photos of each property, videos and events from the area and a search window that allows potential renters to input their needs based on price, bedrooms, location and other requirements.
But success doesn’t just involve throwing up a few photos and a map. A major part of Mogensen’s job is search engine optimization — understanding key words and making sure descriptions of properties on his sites have the right key words and phrases to be recognized for Internet searches — which, in turn, gets his sites to show up high on search pages.
Mogensen writes all copy for his sites, and he spends two hours a day listening to podcasts about the latest search engine optimization and Internet marketing techniques.
“Getting on Google’s page one back in 2009 was easy,” Mogensen said. “These days, staying on top of page one is the challenge we’ve been able to overcome.”